April 02, 2019

Shaheen & Hassan Join Bipartisan Coalition of Senators to Reintroduce Legislation to Combat Sexual Assault on College Campuses, Strengthen Accountability and Transparency for Institutions

*Bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act Would Require Schools to Survey Their Students, Train Campus Administrators, and Make Campuses Safer*

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) joined Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in a bipartisan coalition of Senators to reintroduce the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, legislation to combat sexual assault on college and university campuses by protecting students and by strengthening accountability and transparency for colleges and universities. Shaheen, Hassan, Gillibrand and Grassley are reintroducing this legislation with Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Mark Warner (D-VA).

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would reform the way colleges and universities address and report incidents of sexual assault that take place on their campuses, and it would help protect both survivors and accused students by ensuring that schools have a uniform and fair process for investigating and conducting campus disciplinary proceedings. This legislation would incentivize colleges to protect students and professionalize their responses to sexual assault. It would create new resources and support services for survivors and set new notification requirements for both survivors and accused students involved in the campus disciplinary process.

“Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes in the nation, so it’s imperative that we reform our laws to better respond to survivors as they come forward and seek justice,” said Senator Shaheen. “This bipartisan bill makes necessary, common-sense reforms that improve transparency and accountability on college campuses so we can ensure that students are supported and institutions are accountable for how they process sexual assault cases. Keeping students and college communities safe and empowering survivors with the tools they need must always remain a top priority as we work to prevent and combat sexual violence.”

“For our students to succeed, they must be safe on college and university campuses,” said Senator Hassan. “By ensuring that resources are in place for sexual assault survivors and encouraging higher education institutions to improve their responses to the reporting of sexual assault, this bipartisan legislation is critical to changing the culture around sexual assault on campuses and keeping our young people safe.”

Specifically, this legislation would do the following:

  • Establish new campus resources and support services for student survivors: Colleges and universities would be required to designate Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to assist survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Sexual Assault Response Coordinators would coordinate support services and accommodations for survivors, provide information about options for reporting, and provide guidance or assistance – at the direction of the survivor – in reporting the crime to campus authorities and/or law enforcement. Schools would no longer be allowed to sanction students who report sexual violence but reveal a non-violent student conduct violation in good faith, like underage drinking.
  • Require fairness in the campus disciplinary process: All schools would be required to use one uniform process for campus student disciplinary proceedings and would no longer be allowed to have athletic departments or other subgroups handle complaints. Schools would be required to provide written notification to the accused as well as the survivor of any decision to move forward with a campus disciplinary proceeding within 24 hours of that decision. The notice must include details of the complaint, a summary of the disciplinary proceeding, and the rights and due process protections available to both parties. 
  • Ensure minimum training standards for on-campus personnel: This legislation would ensure that everyone from the Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to those responsible for investigating and participating in disciplinary proceedings receives specialized training so that they have a firm understanding of the nature of these crimes and their effect on survivors.
  • Create historic new transparency requirements: For the first time, students at every college and university in America would be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence to get an accurate picture of this problem. This new biennial survey would be standardized and confidential, with the results published online so that parents and high school students could make an informed choice when comparing universities. The Department of Education would also be required to publish the names of all schools with pending investigations, final resolutions, and voluntary resolution agreements related to Title IX with respect to sexual violence and requirements of the Clery Act.
  • Ensure coordination with law enforcement: This legislation would require colleges and universities to enter into memoranda of understanding (MOU) with each local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction to report to a campus as a first responder. These MOUs would ensure that the school and law enforcement clearly delineate duties and share information so that when a crime occurs, both campus authorities and local authorities can focus on solving the crime rather than debating jurisdiction.
  • Establish stiffer penalties for violations: Schools that do not comply with certain requirements under the bill may face a penalty of up to 1 percent of the institution’s operating budget. The bill would also increase penalties for Clery Act violations to up to $150,000 per violation, from the current penalty of $35,000 per violation. Financial penalties collected from institutions in violation would be distributed back to campuses through a new competitive grant program, administered by the Secretary of Education, for which colleges and universities can apply for the purpose of researching best practices for preventing and responding to sexual and interpersonal violence on college campuses and sharing such research with peer institutions and the Department of Education.

In January 2019, Senators Shaheen and Hassan joined 35 Senate Democrats in a letter calling for Secretary DeVos to rescind a proposed Title IX rule that would weaken existing guidance and regulations for sexual harassment and assault. As the lead Democrat of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Shaheen has repeatedly negotiated record-level federal funding to support grants provided through the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW). In the fiscal year (FY) 2019 funding legislation, Shaheen procured $497.5 million for the OVW. Shaheen also successfully added $120 million to the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Reduction program in FY 2018 government funding legislation.

Senator Shaheen’s bill, the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act – also known as the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act —was signed into law in 2016 and created the first federal codified rights specifically for sexual assault survivors, and provides survivors the opportunity to enforce those rights in federal court. A primary objective of Shaheen’s legislation was to set a standard for states to replicate at the local level, which was done in New Hampshire by Senator Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) when her legislation was signed into law last year. Shaheen also previously introduced legislation to establish housing protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and to set a nationwide standard that survivors cannot be evicted or otherwise denied access to housing for being victims of those crimes. She also led legislation that would make it easier for victims to bring forward certain cases of sexual harassment in rental housing under the Fair Housing Act. 

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